Questions Concerning The Basmala
What is The Meaning of Bismillah (in The Name of God)?
Bismillah, In the Name of God, is the beginning of all good things. So we too shall start with it. This blessed phrase is a sign of Islam, and all creatures constantly recite it in their unique way. If you want to understand what an inexhaustible source of strength and blessing bismillah is, then listen to the following allegory:
For a stranger who travels in the deserts of Arabia, it is necessary to get the protection of a tribal chief. Only then may he escape the mischief of robbers and be sure his needs will be met. Traveling alone would be a waste of time because of the enemies and unmet needs he must face.
Two men once set out on such a desert journey. One was humble, the other arrogant. The humble man took the protection of a tribal chief, but the arrogant one didn’t. The former traveled everywhere in safety. Whenever he met a robber, he would say, “I’m traveling in the name of such and such chief,” and the robber would move on without molesting him. He would be treated with respect in every tent he entered because of that name. By contrast, the arrogant one suffered indescribable disasters throughout his journey. He trembled in constant fear and was obliged to struggle and beg for his every need. He became low and mean.
Man is a traveler in the desert of the world
O arrogant soul! You are that traveler and this world is the desert. Your weakness and poverty know no bounds. You face countless enemies and privations. So, invoke the name of the Eternal Owner and the Everlasting Ruler of this world. Only then will you be saved from having to beg from others and from constantly living in fear.
The phrase bismillah is so blessed a treasure that, by connecting you to the infinite Power and Mercy of the Omnipotent and Merciful One, it transforms your weakness and poverty into the most heeded of intercessors at His Exalted Court. The one who, uttering bismillah, acts in the name of God, is like the one who joins an army and then acts under the state’s name. He fears no one, does all things in the name of the law and the state and persists against all odds.
How can Divine Mercy and Compassion be established in the universe contained in the Basmala?
I saw one manifestation of In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate in this way:
Three stamps of Lordship, one within the other and each carrying a pattern of the others, are impressed upon the face of the universe, the earth, and man.
First: the great stamp of Divinity, evident in the co-operation of all entities in the universe, their general interconnectedness and reciprocity. And the referent of this is In the Name of God.
Second: the great stamp of Divine Mercifulness, evident through the likeness and form, the orderliness and harmony, grace and compassion in the disposal, raising and administration of plants and animals on the face of the earth. And the referent of this is the Merciful in In the Name of God, the Merciful.
Third: The noble stamp of Divine Compassion evident in the subtleties of Divine Goodness, the delicate adjustments of Divine Mildness, the scattering of the light of the Divine Compassion on the face of man’s comprehensive nature. And the referent of this is the Compassionate in In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
The basmala, then, is the holy expression of the three stamps of Divine Oneness, which form a luminous line on the page of the universe, a robust stay, and a golden thread. Revealed from above, the tip of In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate rests upon man, who is a miniature of the universe and its fruit. And the basmala links the world to the Divine Throne and is a stairway for man’s ascent to it.
Divine Mercy fills and lights up boundless space, an otherwise empty void, making it rejoice. Divine Mercy appoints eternity for transient man. And It bestows on man the rank of the beloved of the One, Eternal before and after eternity.
Divine Mercy causes the boundless universe to rejoice. It gives the spark of light and life to the dark entities. Again, Divine Mercy nurtures and raises creatures struggling in their endless neediness. It causes the whole universe to be directed toward man, in the same way as a tree together with all its parts is directed toward its fruit, and to hasten to man’s assistance. Divine Mercy fills and lights up boundless space, an otherwise empty void, making it rejoice. Divine Mercy appoints eternity for transient man. And It bestows on man the rank of the beloved of the One, Eternal before and after eternity.
O man! Since Divine Mercy is so powerful a truth, and so inviting, so mild, so helpful, so worthy of love, say: In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Cling to this truth and be rescued from utter desolation and the hardships of continual neediness. Draw near to the Sovereign, Eternal before and after eternity, and become the one addressed, befriended, and beloved of that Sovereign.
That the many kinds of entities in the universe are gathered around man with purpose and foresight, and hasten to provide all his needs with perfect orderliness and grace—plainly, this situation requires explanation. Either every kind of entity in the universe itself recognizes man and so runs to his help obediently—which is as irrational as it is impossible—or a creature so weak as man possesses the power of the mightiest, absolute sovereign. A third possibility is that help to man reaches him through the recognition of One Absolutely Powerful, behind the veil of the visible universe. In other words, it is not that the different entities in the universe recognize man, but that their doing so is an evidence that One, All-Knowing and Compassionate, is acquainted with him and recognizes him.
O man! Come to your senses! The All-Majestic One causes all kinds of entities to turn toward you, their hands outstretched, offering assistance and saying “Here we are!” when you are in need. Hoe could it be that He does not know you, that He does not see you, that He is not aware of you? He teaches you that He knows you through His Mercy. Then, know Him also and reverently show that you do. Know for sure that Divine Mercy, comprising Wisdom, Grace, Knowledge, and Power, subjects the extensive universe to a creature like yourself — slight, transient, feeble, powerless and needy– and submits it to your service.
Mercy requires total and sincere gratitude, an honest and ardent reverence.
Without doubt, such Mercy requires total and sincere gratitude, an honest and ardent reverence. Say, then: In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, which expresses and interprets such sincere gratitude and honest reverence. Make it the means of an admission to His Mercy, an intercessor and advocate at the Court of the All-Merciful.
The Gracious All-Merciful One submits to the service of life the sun and moon, elements and minerals, and plants and animals like the warp and weft of a vast tapestry woven from the light of His thousand and one Names. He demonstrates His Compassion in the self-sacrifice, the extraordinary sweetness of compassion, of motherhood in plants and animals. Also He subjects all animate life to man and thereby shows man’s importance, his being the finest, loveliest weave from the Divine Lordship. And, thus, He makes evident the brilliance of His Mercy. In the light of His own absolute lack of need, God made His Mercy the acceptable intercessor for His sentient creatures and man.
As the Seal of Mercy and Divine Oneness is impressed upon the face of the earth, so also is it impressed upon the face of man’s nature. And the Mercy stamped upon him is not less than that Compassion and Mercy stamped upon the face of the whole, vast universe. Plainly, man does possess a comprehensive nature as the center of the weave, the focal point of a thousand and one Divine Names.
Is There a Way to Ascend to The Throne of The Divine Mercy?
O man! Know that there is a way to ascend to the throne of the Divine Mercy, and that way is In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Grasp the measure of its importance by looking at the beginning of the chapters of the Qur’an, which is a miracle of exposition, at the beginning of all worthwhile books, at the beginning of all good actions. A clear argument, too, for the greatness of In the Name of God, a greatness determined by Him, is the comment of Imam Shafi’i, one of the very foremost Islamic scholars, may God be pleased with him. He said, “Although In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate is a single verse, it was revealed one hundred and fourteen times in the Qur’an.”
O unhappy man, laboring within a limitless impotence and unending neediness! Understand how valuable a means and how acceptable an intercessor Divine Mercy is. It is the means to a Glorious Sovereign in Whose army vast galaxies and minute particles serve together in perfect obedience and harmony. And He, that Glorious Sovereign, the One, Eternal before and after eternity, is the Eternally-Besought—everything needs Him Who is wholly without need.
He is rich without measure, in no way needy of the universe or the entities within it. The whole of it is under His authority and direction, wholly obedient before His Majesty and Greatness, awed and prostrate before His Sublimity. Such is Divine Mercy, O man, and it is for you. It uplifts you to the Presence of One, absolutely without need, the Eternal Sovereign, Who befriends you, Who addresses you as His well-loved servant. The sun is at a great distance from you so you cannot reach it nor draw close to it even though its light is reflected and made manifest to you by your mirror. In the same way, you are at an infinite remove from the Light of the Pure and Holy One, the Eternal before and after eternity. You cannot draw yourself closer to Him but that the Light of His Mercy makes Him closer to you.
Whoever finds Mercy finds an eternal treasure of unfailing light
Therefore, O man, whoever finds this Mercy finds an eternal treasure of unfailing light. And the way to it is through the sunna of the most noble Prophet (pbuh) who is the most brilliant exemplar and representative of Mercy, its most eloquent voice and herald, and who is hailed in the Qur’an as “a mercy for all the worlds.”
And the way to reach this embodiment of Mercy who is “a mercy to all the worlds” is to utter the prayer calling the blessings of God upon him. Surely, the intent of this prayer is mercy. As a prayer of mercy for the one who was a living embodiment of Divine Mercy, it is the means of reaching the “mercy to all the worlds.” Therefore, make this prayer the means to the “mercy to all the worlds,” for yourself, and thereby make him your means to the Mercy of the Most Merciful of the Merciful.
The whole body of Muslims in their vast numbers worldwide utter this prayer for the “mercy to all the worlds” which is synonymous with Mercy. And that is a dazzling demonstration of how precious a gift Divine Mercy is and how broad its sphere.
To conclude: The most precious jewel in the treasure-house of Mercy is the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and he is also its door-keeper. The first key to that treasure-house of Mercy is In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. And the most easy key is the prayer for the Prophet.
O God! For the sake of the mysteries of In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, bestow blessings and peace on the one whom You sent as a mercy to all the worlds in accordance with Your Mercy and the honor due to him, and on all his family and his Companions. Grant us mercy so that we are free of need for the mercy of any other than You. Amen.
Glory be to You! We have no knowledge save what You have taught us. Truly, You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
Why Are The Divine Names, The Merciful and The Compassionate Included in The Basmala?
In His Name, Glory be to Him
There is nothing that does not glorify Him with praise.
There are many reasons why the Divine Names, al-Rahman (the Merciful) and al-Rahim (the Compassionate) were included in the basmala, the formula uttered at the outset of every good deed and intention: In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. I hope to be able to explain some of these reasons later. For the time being, I will talk about one of the impressions they make upon me:
The Divine Names, al-Rahman and al-Rahim seem to me, my dear brother, to own a light so comprehensive and splendid that it envelops the whole universe, and is enough to satisfy anyone’s needs for ever and to secure them against all kinds of hostility. One can be enlightened to these two greatest of the Divine Names through a grasp of his poverty and helplessness vis-à-vis the riches and power of God, and, in return, through thanksgiving to God for His limitless compassion and mercy. This is, in fact, the way of sincere devotion to God and humility. On this point, I would like to emphasize, in opposition to some people of research and discernment and even to Imam Rabbani, whom I regard to be my master in most subjects, that it was deep affection, not love, which the Prophet Ya‘qub (Jacob), upon him be peace, felt towards his son, the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), upon him be peace. Affection is keener, purer and more sublime than love and, accordingly, more suited to the exalted rank of prophethood, whereas love does not seem to me to be suited to it, particularly when deeply felt for mortal beings.
This means that it was deep affection, so wonderfully described in the Qur’an, which the Prophet Ya‘qub felt for Yusuf, and it is again affection which enables one to be the object of manifestation of the Divine Name, al-Rahim. As for love, which can make one the object of manifestation of the Divine Name, al-Wadud, the All-Loving, when directed to the real Beloved One instead of to mortal beings, it is the kind of feeling that the wife of the ‘Aziz of Egypt (called Potiphar in the Bible) cherished for Yusuf. Compared with love, affection is more sublime and profound to the extent that the Qur’an regards the feelings of Ya‘qub as more exalted than the feelings of Zulayha, the wife of the ‘Aziz.
Imam Rabbani rightly understood that the prophets felt no love for mortal beings, so, according to him, Ya‘qub’s love for Yusuf was not a flaw, for what he loved was the spiritual beauties of Yusuf, not his mortal person. However, I should point out that this great Imam gave himself trouble to interpret it. The truth is that what Ya‘qub felt towards Yusuf was affection, which is a hundred times as bright, pure, and sublime as love. Indeed, affection is graceful and deeply felt, whereas love is such that, in most cases, we should not lower ourselves to it.
In addition, affection is so comprehensive a feeling that one, through affection for his own children, feels some affection for all other children and even for all living beings. He can become a comprehensive mirror where the manifestations of the Divine Name, al-Rahim are reflected, whereas love is restricted to the beloved one, and causes the lover to diminish others in order to prefer his beloved. For example, a lover is reported to have said: ‘The sun feels ashamed because of the beauty of my beloved and veils itself behind the cloud in order not be seen.’ And what gives this lover the right to have the sun ashamed, which so brightly manifests eight of the Great Names of God?
Furthermore, affection is felt sincerely without any ulterior motive and, accordingly, asks for no return, whereas love demands repayment. The tears caused by love mean to ask for a return, whilst sincere affection, even of the lowest degree, felt by animals for their young, proves that affection does not demand return.
In conclusion, the affection of Ya‘qub for Yusuf, which is the finest aspect of the Qur’anic sura Yusuf, directs us to the Divine Names, al-Rahman and al-Rahim, and demonstrates that the way of affection leads to the Divine Compassion. The remedy for the ailments of affection is the truth expressed by the verse,
God is the best guardian, and He is the most Merciful of the Merciful. (The Quran 12:64)
This article is compiled from writings of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and M. Fethullah Gulen